Friday, February 22, 2019

The Shape of Success by Patty Blount

Here's a head-scratcher for you.... the shape of success is circular.

Wait, what? Circular? I know it's a reach, but follow my logic:

When I was a kid with a dream of publishing a book -- success was exactly that: the published book. I wanted to tell a story that people would think about, maybe change their minds about something. Not to brag, but I did that. In fact, I've done it more than once now. For a little while, PUBLISH THE BOOK was my definition of success until suddenly, it was no longer enough.

That's the thing about success... the definition is an ever-shifting image, a moving target. Achieve it and you have to redefine. Re-aim. And here's the seedy underbelly of it that no one tells you about: it can get you down if you let it. You published a book! That's great. It was your life-long dream and all those hours of work finally paid off. Now what?

"Oh," I thought. "Wouldn't it be great to win some awards, speak at some conferences?" I did the work and sent in applications and workshop proposals and to my astonishiment, won a few awards, filled a few seats.

Soon, that wasn't enough either.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

Success is a bar that keeps getting raised. 

And that can be a good thing. You want to keep chasing it, keep improving, keep learning. That bar can be the fuel that keeps us moving ever forward.

But with this Sisyphean task comes a certain amount of "But wait... what if I nevers" that can derail your progress. What if I never hit a list? What if a movie based on my book is never made? What if the things happening for THAT author never happen for me?

You know the saying, "Comparison is the thief of joy?"  It is especially true when we try to define SUCCESS by someone else's terms. You may look at your favorite young adult author and learn she hit the list with her debut novel, or landed a six-figure advance after auction. Another author sold TV serial rights. Still another is the keynote speaker at every conference. And another has a million Twitter followers.

And then you look at yourself and say, "I don't have any of those things. I am a failure."

For a long time, I feared this was true. I wrote this one story, got it published. Wrote two more, got them published. The third won finaled in the Rita, won some other awards. I've got nine published so far but every book since that third? Not as successful, in my eyes.

Now I'm comparing myself to... MYSELF.

Writers have to change their mindsets, their thought processes. Defining SUCCESS by someone else's yardstick, as I was doing, is a dangerous path to travel, my friends. The thorns are prickly and if you're not careful, the dream of being an author becomes drudgery and you'll look for any excuse to avoid it.

If you find yourself heading in this direction, what worked for me was returning to my original intention. Why did I want to become an author in the first place? For some, maybe it was for the royalty checks and movie deals. But for others, maybe it was for something far less flashy. Maybe it was because your heart held a story inside that needed to be told. Maybe you wanted a little piece of you to live on forever. Maybe you wanted to change just one mind or speak to just one heart. Maybe it was because you were a reader long before you were a writer and you just want to tell stories readers like you will love.

Whatever your original reason was, use that as your mantra. Go back to the beginning and don't lose sight of that driving force. Don't compare it to anyone else's, just do your thing.

I AM a success and here's why. It's not the awards I've won or the money I've made, though I adore those things. As a reader, I adored stories that touched me, made me feel -- deeply -- for a particular character's emotional journey. When I became a writer, I wanted to be able to do that same thing in my readers. I wanted to change minds, change hearts. I wanted readers to feel for my characters. I wanted to tell stories that matter!

And I'm doing it:

I'm not sure if you remember me...We met when you were at a guest speaker at my high school. At the time I was a senior getting ready to graduate but I was carrying a burden with me. I was sexually assaulted by a friend in the summer of 2016. For two years, I kept that a secret from everyone but I felt comfortable sharing my experience with you. First, I'd like to thank you. You have helped me heal in ways I could not imagine. It is because of you that I was able to leave horrible memories behind, move away and go to college. I still have the copy of Some Boys that you gave me. I love this book more than you'll ever know. I've wanted to email you for so long but I couldn't until I knew I was in the right headspace. I didn't want to tell you I was thriving in life when I was crashing. And I was crashing for a while. Right now, I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. Since we last spoke I have moved to [redacted] and I am currently studying Political Science. I've decided to go into politics because I think it's the best way for me to make a change in the world. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to thank you enough. 

Hello Patty! I don't know if you remember me or not. Since graduating high school and finishing my first semester at college, I've revisited Some Boys. At the time when I first read it, sexual assault was just an idea to me. It was not until I experienced it first hand that I was really able to understand Grace's feelings and how she overcame her rape throughout the novel. I would love to share my story with you more and how you've inspired me. 

I just finished reading your book Some Boys. I loved it. I was raped by my mom's boyfriend in [redacted]. he has since been arrested and is now in prison. Your book spoke to me, it made me feel like someone knew how it feels for someone that has been raped. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I have dozens of messages like these, which were redacted and edited to protect the identities of senders. I may never become famous...or rich....or get a cameo in a movie made from my novels, but for these readers, I told them stories that resonated. It took coming full circle for me to remember that.

If you're a book lover, tell me how you define an author's success?


  1. What great reader letters! That IS success!

  2. And I bet there are ten more who feel helped for each letter you've received. Sharing on Facebook.

  3. I think we have to stay true to our own reasons for wanting to write. That's what success is.